There have been many casualties in this process. I have mentioned many of them in this post:
The one that I am struggling with mightily right now is self esteem. I will just say it, it has been shattered. For someone who has always had a bit of a body image problem and a feeling of low self worth, the revelation of multiple affairs by my companion has had a devastating affect on something that I already wrestle with. There are a couple of ways that I have taken a heavy hit and through therapy, I am learning to overcome them.
1. Body image. Let's just say, I have never been a perfectly shaped girl. I started developing breasts in the fourth grade. That's right...the FOURTH GRADE! What a cruel joke my genetics played on me. I have also struggled with my weight forever. I started dieting in seventh grade. How sad is that? I have always envied the petite little women that can eat whatever they want and never gain a pound. I wanted to be them but knew I never could. No amount of dieting and exercise would ever yield that super model body for me, especially after having five children. So, how did I endure? The answer was, I knew my husband loved me for what I was and I assumed he was attracted to my body in all its' forms. (and it has changed over the years, trust me!)
So what happens to that body image when my husband reveals that he has had sexual relations with three other women? It is DEVASTATING! The first thing that exploded from my mouth when he told me of his latest and longest lasting affair was, "Was she skinnier than me?" He didn't answer and I took his silence as a "yes." Oh, the agony! He had now experienced intimacy with bodies that were better than mine. How could I ever compare?
I remember sitting in our hotel room hours after the revelation (we left our children with a babysitter and spent the night in a hotel to figure things out) and I went to remove my clothes to get ready for bed and hesitated. I didn't want to get undressed in front of him. I must be positively disgusting to him for him to go searching for other bodies to have sex with when I was always ready and willing. It took me a few weeks to be comfortable being undressed in front of him and even now, after 12 weeks, I still struggle with it. I find myself looking in the mirror at my body and saying, "You will never be able to compare to those other women. You are disgusting."
The other issue I have is that when a man has a sexual addiction or a pornography addiction, women are objectified. My husband finds himself getting turned on by "porn" bodies...the perfectly airbrushed supermodel bodies that no real person that has had five babies and is in her forties could have. It is an impossible standard to hold myself to. He has admitted to me that one of his triggers when out in public is a perfect body that is dressed in a seductive way. That hurts me so.
I have found myself thinking that if I could only lose 30 more pounds, change my hair, get a breast reduction, remove my pregnancy stretch marks, wear more make up, or buy expensive clothes, then perhaps my husband would never want to stray again. Perhaps he would be so attracted to me that no other woman would ever catch his eye.
The truth is, that doesn't work. He has told me over and over again that what he did never had anything to do with what I was or wasn't. It was a product of a 25 year addiction that got out of control. He fell in love with me as a size 12. I was not a size 2 when we got married. True, my body has gone up a size or two over the years (and back down again, and back up again, and back down again) but he didn't fall in love with me for my body. He fell in love with me for who I am. When my husband's addiction tells him that he needs to act out his porn induced fantasies with another woman, he is looking for another "body," not another relationship. It is the difference between lust versus love. The new body is the shiny new toy that his 25 year addiction tells him is his drug and that he must have. After he is done playing with the new toy, he realizes that it never was all that it was sold to be and he comes back to the thing he loves the most, his wife. I am the person that gives him true joy. Joy doesn't come from playing with the shiny new toy. New toys become old very fast.
So, how does this love versus lust realization help my self esteem? I have come to understand that my husband loves me so much more deeply than he loves those other "bodies." (I have started to call these women "bodies" because in truth, that was his drug. They were not people to him. They were objects that would feed him the drug that he couldn't live without) I am more than just a "body" to him. I am his past, his present, and mercifully for him, his future.
So, that brings me to my next self esteem issue. If he is indeed still attracted to my body, why couldn't he satisfy his cravings for lust with me, an always eager and willing sexual partner?
2. Sex! The initial discovery phases were particularly tough in this area. What on earth was I not doing right in the bedroom for him to need to experience sex with other women? Was I not adventurous enough? Was I not sexy enough? Did I not give him the pleasure he needed?
An interesting phenomenon for those completely addicted to pornography is that they have a much harder time being intimate with their wives. I hate to say it, but they have a hard time "performing" in the bedroom because as they get more and more addicted, they need those images and fantasies to be present for them to get where they need to be. I am not enough anymore. The disgusting, raunchy videos and images are what he is used to getting pleasure from now so being intimate with his "pure" wife is almost impossible. For the wife (me) who has absolutely no idea that he is feasting on pornography (or worse, being with another woman) on a daily basis, I am left to believe that he is no longer attracted to me or he is uninterested in sex with me.
In my confusion, I found myself googling, "mid life crisis in men," or "How can I get my husband to be more interested in me sexually," or, "Why is my husband losing his libido?" What was interesting was that in most of the articles I read, the counsel was given that if your husband is losing interest in sex, chances are, he is addicted to pornography. When I read that, I thought..."Well, that can't be what is wrong with my husband...he would never do that and if he was, surely I would be able to know." How wrong I was. So, I guess his addiction revelation gives me some level of comfort in that area. It wasn't that he was lacking in attraction to me or interest in me...he was just getting it somewhere else.
Secondly, there is always that "third" person in our bedroom now and that knowledge hits my self esteem significantly. He now has sexual experiences with other women. How could he not compare those experiences with what we do in the bedroom. I am constantly thinking "Were they better than me?" or "Did they do this or that in a more satisfying way?" I HATE that I have to think those thoughts. I HATE that he has shared our sexual experiences and practices with other people. I hate that I have no way of knowing if I am doing things worse or better than those women. It is maddening and it plays such games with my mind.
So, here is what I find comfort in. For my husband, sex with me has been what he calls a "Celestial" experience. We are married for eternity...the right to be intimate is something given to us by a loving Heavenly Father and it is something that we saved only for our wedding day. It is pure. It is holy. It is sacred. When my husband is engaged in unholy acts such as viewing pornography, or worse, acting out on those fantasies with others, sex becomes very disgusting and dirty in his mind. He CAN'T bring that disgusting and filthy world into our pure and sacred one. The guilt and shame that he felt on a daily basis for the acts he was engaged in bled over into our intimate life. He didn't feel worthy to be with me.
So, that helps a little. I still need to get over the phenomenon of having that "other woman" in the be with us. I joke with him that we just need to keep "practicing" to learn how to be together without "her." He too struggles in this area. When we are intimate now, his guilt and shame over past deeds can be crushing. He is sometimes concentrating so hard on keeping thoughts, memories and images out of his mind when we are together that he forgets to concentrate on the task at hand :) We are working at it though and it is improving.
So, those are the two major hits to my self esteem that this experience has provided. They are big and they are hard but I am getting help. I met with a therapist yesterday and she gave me some homework. She said that I need to take note of how I talk to myself about myself. When I start getting down on myself, I need to follow it up with something nurturing. I can take a walk in the sunshine, say a prayer, write in my journal, tell my husband that I love him, ask him to remind me of the reasons he loves me, list my blessings, put on some good music. I am going to really try and do this.
I also need to say this. My husband has been amazing in helping me with this process. He understands the monumental hurt he has caused and he is working tirelessly to fix it. He is always telling me that I am beautiful. He reminds me of the reasons he loves me. He builds me up with his gratitude for my ability to understand and forgive. When I want to be intimate, he is ready and willing and eager. (and that is a HUGE change from the way things have been.) I know that many of those that read this blog don't have husbands that are bending over backwards to repair you and yet, I am certain you experience the same self esteem issues that I do. The only thing I can say is to remember how important you are to your Heavenly Father. Rely on Him. Rely on good friends and family members. I have found myself relying on all of these important components as I heal from this. Even in something as private and potentially embarrassing as adultery, you need a support group. I found a few trusted individuals that I could confide in. They have been my strength (along with my husband) and they have lifted me and reminded me of my worth. Mostly, in my most desperate moments, I have been so grateful for the tender whisperings of my Heavenly Father through answer to prayer that say, "My daughter, I love you so. I am so proud of you. You are handling this just like I knew you would."